Are Tragedies "Gifts From God"?

(I had this post on my other blog, but it fits right in with all the anti-Calvinism/anti-predestination posts that I am writing.  For more on that, see "Links To My Anti-Calvinism Posts".)

            James 1:2-4:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

            I am reading a book right now by a woman who lost her mother to cancer.  And she is struggling with the common Christian idea that all trials and tragedies are “gifts from God, meant for our good” and that we are to be thankful for them. 

            Are we supposed to accept infertility, fatal car accidents, chronically-ill children, divorce, disease, cancer, natural disasters, the death of loved ones, etc. as “gifts from God” that He has deliberately given us for our good?  Are we required to push away any pain or heartache or frustration because these are “gifts from God”? 

            I would say “No”!

            It seems to me that many Christians feel that it is the “good Christian’s” duty to thankfully accept trials and tragedies because “God made this happen for your own good.”  And we are to never get hurt, doubtful, or upset because that wouldn’t be showing faith and trust and thankfulness.  Because God obviously knows what He’s doing and He did this on purpose for our spiritual best.  Right? 

            Yes, I believe God knows what He's doing ... and He works everything together for good ... and He is wise and sovereign in whatever He allows to happen ... and we can and should find things to be thankful for all situations ... and we can consider it joy that trials will strengthen our faith.  But I do not think it's entirely accurate to make people feel like they have to be "happy" about tragedies, that they have to thank God for them because He "did it to them on purpose."  This is where things get a little messy and off-track.  (Personally, I think this "God did it to you on purpose" thing is a Calvinist idea, stemming from their view of God's sovereignty, that God causes all things on purpose, for His glory and His plans.  But I think Calvinists misunderstand God's sovereignty.  And it does great damage to the Gospel and the character of God!)

            Remember that pain, death, and decay were curses that came as a result of man’s disobedience in the Garden.  These were not part of God’s original plan for us, His best plan for us.  We brought them into the picture.  They are consequences of the fall, not “gifts from God.”  God did not create these for our best, but He did allow them as a consequence of the Fall.  The Fall that ruined His best.  (And yet from the beginning, in His wisdom and sovereignty, He knew how He would incorporate the Fall into His plans and make it into something good.)  

            Also, in the Bible, we read often of tragedies, disasters, and war as being a punishment from God or discipline to get people back on the right track.  In the Old Testament, God oftentimes set out a “blessing path” and a “curse path.”  And He says that the people are to choose which path they want to take.  Obedience will lead them down the “blessing path” and disobedience leads them down the “curse path.”  And so, many tragedies were the result of the people choosing disobedience.

            In our day, we have sexually-transmitted diseases brought on by sexual sin, broken hearts and shattered children created by divorce, devastated spouses because of affairs, financial ruin because of poor choices, unhealthy bodies because of poor eating habits, ruined lives and bodies because of irresponsibility and human evil, natural disasters and genetic problems because sin was introduced into the world and ruined God’s perfect creation, etc.  And I do not think we can rightly call these kinds of things “gifts from God.”

            While many Christians believe that God causes everything that happens for a reason, I think it is more accurate to say that, in general, He “allows” things to happen for a reason.  I know it seems like a minor distinction: cause or allow.  But to the hurting person, there is a big difference between the two, one that can drastically affect our view of God.

            (And if it does, in fact, bring you more comfort to think He causes all tragedies for a reason, then keep thinking that.  I am writing this for the people who don’t find comfort in that idea, the ones whose faith is faltering because they have been told that God caused the bad things that happened to them, the ones who are hurting on the inside but putting on a "good Christian" smile on the outside so that they don't offend God.  You don't have to accept the idea that God is always the cause of all bad things.  That is a misrepresentation of God and of how He works.) 

            To say “cause” means that God deliberately makes each heartache, trial, and tragedy happen.  But this does not take into account the fall of man, the fall of God’s perfect creation, personal disobedience, bad choices, human carelessness, and Satan, the instigator of all things evil. 

            But to say “allow” reminds us that bad things happen as a result of the fall and of Satan and of sin. 

            (To be accurate, sometimes God does cause "bad things" - but never sin or wickedness! - but we can't know when He's just allowed things or when He's deliberately caused things.  And my point here is about not letting someone convince you that God definitely caused whatever tragedy you faced and so you have to be thankful for it and happy about it, or else you're being a "bad Christian."  That adds a huge painful burden to an already hurting person.  Healing and perspective and peace come in time, but they will have a much harder time coming if you feel you have to hide your bad feelings and thoughts from God.  When there are bad feelings, don't stuff them or feel guilty about them or force yourself to "be happy."  That only makes things worse.  Instead, be real with God about them.  That's the quicker road to healing.  Besides, He already knows all we are thinking and feeling anyway, so we are not fooling Him by hiding it.  We are just putting up walls between Him and us, preventing His love from healing our broken hearts.)   

            In the book of Job, Satan asked to test Job.  And God gave Satan a boundary (such as “Do not touch Job himself”), but He allowed Satan a certain “free reign” to cause trouble within that boundary.  God allowed Satan to choose and cause these tragedies.  And while He did not specifically cause them Himself or choose which tragedies to give Job, He was aware of everything that happened and He allowed it.  And the reason He allowed these tragedies was because He knew that they would be used for His glory and that He could make something good out of them for Job’s sake and for the sake of mankind. 

            Everything that Satan wants to do to us has to get God’s consent first.  Everything that happens to us and on this earth goes through Him first.  And while He doesn’t always specifically choose which tragedies to give us, He does decide what to allow and what to not allow.  And everything that God allows He does so because He knows how He can weave it into something good in our lives and for His glory.  

            [This still might not comfort people all that much - thinking that God could have stopped the tragedy but didn't - but it is biblical.  It shows how bad things happen but God can still be considered a good God.  God doesn't always cause the tragedies.  He has allowed people to affect His world, to affect others, to affect their own lives.  He has given us choices and a responsibility over what happens in this world.  So not everything that happens is His fault or His doing.  Many times, it's ours.  God wants and commands us to do the right thing but He lets us make choices.  And bad things can happen as a result of our choices.  And when they do, He hurts with us because pain and tragedy and heartache were never part of His plan for us.  And yet He will eventually work all bad things into something good, right all wrongs, and heal it all in the end.  

            A God like this - one who doesn't want us to make bad choices and who never wanted pain for us, but who lets us make decisions and affect things, and yet promises to work it all into something good - is a God that can still be trusted, even when things go wrong.  

            But if God is the cause of all evil - of all sin and wickedness - then He would be a Monster God, causing the sins He commands us not to commit, causing the evil He will then turn around and punish.  This is the Calvinist God!  A God who is not just and righteous and trustworthy and loving.  Not when He causes the sins He forbids, and then punishes us for committing the sins He caused us to do.  Not when He causes wicked things "for His glory."  It's nonsense!  And it shows why a correct view of God and how He works is so important.  It deeply affects our faith and our relationship with God.]   

            Yes, God is all-powerful and He could prevent any and every tragedy from happening.  And yes, God is all-loving and wants the best for us.  But I believe God has decided to voluntarily limit His use of power.  He will not (generally) over-ride our right to make choices.  He allows us the option to disobey, to bring pain and consequences on ourselves, because He gave us the right to choose Him or to reject Him. 

            And He gave us this right because He doesn’t want to spend eternity with robots who are forced to choose Him and love Him.  He wants to spend eternity with those who want to love Him and who voluntarily choose Him.  And any of us can understand that because we all want to be with people who want to be with us, not who are forced to be with us. 

            But unfortunately, free-will comes with painful consequences when we choose to disobey, which started at the Fall in the Garden when Satan gained a certain level of power and control over the earth, bringing with it curses against our bodies, our health, nature, and our relationship with God.

            God gave Adam and Eve the command to “not eat the fruit of the tree” and He warns all people to “choose obedience over disobedience” because He wants to spare us negative consequences, pain, and heartbreak.  I think it causes God pain, too, to see us hurt.  He never intended that this was the way it should be when He first created the world. 

            But our gracious God, however, has not abandoned us to our sin and bad choices, even if He does allow tragedies.  He will walk with us through them and bring good out of them and turn them into something eternally-good.  And we can trust Him for that!  And He offers salvation and forgiveness and wants us to grasp how great His love is for us so we can have the kind of eternity in the end that we were originally made for, even if He won’t protect us from the consequences of sin right now.

            When it comes to many of the bad things that happen in life, I think it’s more likely that God is “allowing” them, not necessarily “causing” them. 

            But if you are living a disobedient life, God may indeed cause/allow bad things to happen to get you back on track, as He did in the Old Testament.  So don’t just think it’s “bad luck.”  It may just be God disciplining you and calling you back to Him.  And if He does want to cause something “bad” to happen (but never sin or wickedness!), He will do so, for His reasons.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility.  It is part of His sovereignty and the right to do as He pleases.  He is God, after all.

            But sometimes, accidents are accidents.  And tragedies just happen.  Not because God caused them but because they are part of the fallen world.  And God has allowed them as consequences of our personal choices and of mankind’s fall.  But if He has allowed them, we can trust that He has His reasons, that He will carry us through it, and that He will work it into something good.

            Personally, I think God sits back to watch what we will do, much more than we realize, much more than Calvinists say.  They think He micromanages everything, that everything that happens is because He caused it to happen.  But I think that He watches over all things but doesn't always intervene.  Sometimes He does, of course, if there is something specific He wants to do.  And sometimes He intervenes to discipline.  But I think there are a lot of other times when God simply watches to see what we will do, if we will pray and invite Him into our circumstances, if we will call on Him, if we want Him in our lives or not, etc.

            This is one reason why prayer is so important.  It's calling on God, inviting Him into our world, into our circumstances.  I think, in general, God has chosen to let us decide if we want Him in our world, in our lives, or not.  And He will generally wait to be invited in.  So much of the wickedness and tragedies we see around us are because people have chosen to live without God.  We don't call on Him.  We don't seek His help.  We don't live obediently.  We live our own little lives without Him.  We don't even thank Him for the blessings and health and basic essentials we would die without.  But then ... when things go wrong ... we turn on Him and blame Him and accuse Him of causing the bad things, of not being there for us.  

            When all along, it was simply that we never invited Him into our worlds.  We kept Him out.  We ignored Him - our good heavenly Father who is so willing to step in and help and heal, if only we would invite Him in!

            "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."  (2 Chronicles 7:14

            Tragedy is not a gift.  Death is not a gift.  It is an enemy.  The enemy that will be the last one to be destroyed in the end.  (Revelation 20:14)  (And yet, even though it was a curse, death is also kind of a gift, looking at it from a purely human perspective.  Because if mankind was able to live forever after the Fall, we would be in a fallen state eternally.  Death is what releases us from that fallen state, bringing us into the perfect eternal state we were meant for.  If you are a believer!  Because it ushers us from the broken, fallen, decaying body to eternal life in heaven with Christ.  So while death itself is not a blessing, there is a great blessing after death for those who trust in the Lord.)

            The “gift” isn’t the tragedies and trials; it’s the good that God creates out of the tragedies and trials and the strength that He gives us to get through them.  The “gift” isn’t the test; it’s the character development, spiritual development, and wisdom that grow from the test.  The “gift” is God walking with us through the hard times and using them to mature our faith, to grow our trust in Him, to soften our hearts to the pain of others, to make us more compassionate people, to help us sort out our priorities, to humble us at His feet, and to create a more glorious eternity for us. 

            This is what we can be thankful for.  We shouldn’t tell hurting people that the tragedies are “gifts from God.”  

            [I was FURIOUS after hearing our Calvinist pastor give a sermon about how all the bad things, the tragedies, in your life were "ordained" by God - as in "planned and caused by God" - for your good and His glory and to humble you.  Even, he said, childhood abuse.  


            I ... WAS ... LIVID!  Still am!  (It's why I bring it up so much.)  How wretched to tell hurting, abused people that God caused their abuse and that they have to simply trust that He had His reasons, that He did it out love and for your best and for His glory.  

            FRICKIN' HOGWASH!!!  

            That was the sermon when I decided I was done with this pastor!  I will not listen to someone preaching such wretched lies - which is what I believe Calvinism is - about the God I love and trust!  

            But, I digress.  So calming down now ... getting back to the issue at hand ...]  

            We shouldn’t scold them to “be thankful for the tragedy, not sad, because God did this for your own good.”  

            We can't know which things God caused and which He just allowed.  But we can come alongside hurting people to offer help, prayers, and a shoulder to lean on.  We can cry with them.  We can say, "This really sucks."  We can remind them that God will walk with them through the pain, that He will bring good out of the bad someday, that He can be trusted no matter what, that He hurts with them, and that someday God will make all wrongs right again. 

            Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” 

            During the tragedy, we might not be able to see or understand the blessings that can come out of it.  All we see is the pain.  And we might not be able to find any joy or hidden blessings in it yet.  (That usually comes a lot later.)  

            During the tragedy, when the pain is fresh and new, is not usually the time to focus on "being thankful and counting your blessings."  Polishing up that "good Christian" mask.  Trying to talk yourself into a better mood.    

            It's the time to pour out your pain to the Lord, to throw yourself at His feet in despair and humility, to tell Him that you have no strength left to face the day, to fall apart in His arms.  

            And that’s okay.  It's okay to fall apart in front of the One who can put you back together again.  And God understands that we are human and that we hurt!  He can handle our anger and pain and fear.  He can handle "the real you."  He wants the real you.  He wants you to need Him, to be real with Him, and to open all hurting parts of your heart up to Him.  He wants you to invite Him into your life.  

            Counting the blessings and seeing the good and being thankful will come later.  But you don’t have to worry about polishing up your “joyful, good-Christian mask” when you are in the midst of deep heartache.  During the pain, just fall on Him and cry and know that He can handle the doubts and anger and pain.  Know that He hurts with you and for you and that someday He will make everything right again.  Be honest with Him about your pain and keep your heart open to Him.  This is what will grow your faith and help you persevere and help you eventually say, “It is well with my soul!  Whether You give or take away, blessed be Your name!” 

            And eventually, if you continue to draw nearer to Him instead of pulling away, there will be a deep peace, even in the midst of ache.  There will be a deep joy rooted in God and not in life’s circumstances, even if you are not “happy.”  And there will be a sweetness (a bittersweetness) in your soul, where you will be able to thank God for the things you learned during the painful trials.  And those will be the gifts!  Blessings in disguise!

            Psalm 86:1-6:  “Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. . . . Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.  Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you.  Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.”

            Psalm 34:17-18: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 

            Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” 

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